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USGNN Original StoryForum Helps Finishing Industries Understand Green Specs

Among the sessions held during the Fourth Annual Finishing Industries Forum, taking place this week in Las Vegas (CLICK HERE for related story), labor-including finding qualified labor and retaining it-clearly took the forefront. But among other sessions was an informative seminar on how to interpret green specs. Jennifer Eaton, project manager of the Green Academy and Center for Sustainability at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, spoke to members of the Painters and Allied Trades Labor Management Cooperation Initiative, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the Finishing Contractors Association attending the conference about how to better understand the increasing number of green specs showing up on these subcontractors' bids.

Jennifer Eaton, project manager of the Green Academy and Center for Sustainability at Cuyahoga Community College, presented a seminar on understanding green specs during the Finishing Industries Forum.

"LEED so far is still very design-sided," Eaton said, "and when it trickles down to [subcontractors] it's very confusing." In some ways, she added, "going green" is like starting a new business, with new products and new paperwork with which to familiarize oneself.

Eaton focused on the U.S. Green Building Council's (UGSBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) program, saying, "There are a lot of other competing products but LEED really seems to be the one that's going to take the market." She noted that parts of such alternative products as Green Seal and Green Globes are beginning to be absorbed by LEED.

She began by outlining the rating categories and levels of LEED, noting that some changes will be made with the release of Version 3 in 2009 (CLICK HERE for more information), and then proceeded to talk about product-specific issues. She recommended that upon deciding to focus on green products, glaziers and other subcontractors build their vendor files first by calling their existing vendors and learn what they have that meets LEED standards. She suggested updating these files every six months as "this stuff is changing that fast."

Being familiar with the green products available is important for glaziers and other subcontractors, Eaton and members of her audience agreed, as it is often up to the subcontractor to ensure that an appropriate product is used. Eaton also advised that during early LEED meetings with the design team one should ask how to get approval for substitution to ensure that an appropriate product is used that fits the application and earns LEED points.

In response to questions from the audience Eaton acknowledged that there are a number of bugs yet to be worked out in this green certification system dominating the market. "You can actually build a LEED-certified building without using approved products," she said. "It's a flawed system. They're just trying to get people thinking." As she pointed out, by becoming a member of USGBC and commenting on updates, trades people are able to impact the point system.

But even with the appropriate products selected, the subcontractor has a great deal of information to provide to USGBC for the building to be certified. As far as paperwork is concerned, Eaton advised, "Remember to bid in more man hours for doing paperwork." Among the examples of additional paperwork required by USGBC were the typical technical data sheets and material safety data sheets as well as chain of custody forms showing proof of origin (using products within a certain radius can earn a building LEED points) among other things, recycled content forms showing the percentage of the product from recycled material, material use confirmation forms, waste reduction forms and progress reports and green certification confirmation forms.

As Eaton pointed out, "We're no longer working as individual trades … now we're doing it all together." The concept of integrated design describes the importance of the subcontractors working with the designers and other trades people; for example, one issue that came up during the conference was the relationship between the glazier and the electrician when it comes to the relatively new task of installing photovoltaic panels in buildings.

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